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Oklahoma Primary: Voters say yes to Obamacare Medicaid expansion

Neese, Bice advance to runoff for chance to take on Democratic U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

OKLAHOMA CITY (CFP) — Voters in deep-red Oklahoma narrowly approved expanding Medicaid in Tuesday’s primary election, overriding Republican politicians who had blocked expansion for more than a decade because of its association with Obamacare.

With Tuesday’s vote, Oklahoma becomes the fourth conservative, Republican-led state where voters have used the initiative process to force Medicaid expansion over the objections of political leaders.

State voters said yes to Medicaid expansion by a margin of 50.5% to 49.5%, a margin of just 6,500 votes.

Also Tuesday, Republicans in the 5th U.S. House District in metro Oklahoma City narrowed their choice to two candidates — businesswoman Terry Neese and State Senator Stephanie Bice — who will now compete in an August runoff for the right to face Democratic U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn, who flipped the seat in 2018 and is one of the GOP’s top targets for 2020.

Neese took 37% to Bice’s 25% to earn runoff spots from the nine-candidate field.

Sooner State Democrats also picked Abby Broyles, a former investigative reporter for an Oklahoma City television station, as their nominee to face U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe. She carried 60% against three other candidates.

Given the state’s strong Republican tilt, Inhofe, running for his fifth full term, will be the prohibitive favorite in November. At 85, if he wins, he’ll be 92 by the time his term ends in 2029.

Oklahoma had been one of 14 Republican-controlled states whose leaders have refused to expand Medicaid to extend coverage to low-income residents without insurance who don’t currently qualify for the program but can’t afford private coverage on the Obamacare exchanges.

According to proponents, expansion could benefit 200,000 state residents and help rescue rural hospitals how in financial trouble.

Proponents collected enough petition signatures to put expansion on the ballot Tuesday as a constitutional amendment, following similar successful efforts in the conservative states of Utah, Idaho and Nebraska to use voter initiatives to get around lawmakers philosophically opposed to participating in Obamacare.

Republican Governor Kevin Stitt opposed expansion, arguing that the state cannot afford to cover its part of the cost amid a budget crunch caused by the coronavirus crisis.

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Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn will resign at the end of current Congress

Coburn’s decision triggers second Senate election in the state this fall

♦By Rich Shumate, editor

oklahoma mugWASHINGTON (CFP) — Republican U.S. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma says he will leave office at the end of the year, triggering an election in November for the remaining two years of his term.

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn

U.S. Senator Tom Coburn

Coburn, 65, has been battling a recurrence of prostate cancer. But he said in a statement that “this decision isn’t about my health, my prognosis or even my hopes and desires.”

“My commitment to the people of Oklahoma has always been that I would serve no more than two terms,” said Coburn, who was elected to the Senate in 2004 and re-elected in 2010. “Our founders saw public service and politics as a calling rather than a career.”

“I am now convinced that I can best serve my own children and grandchildren by shifting my focus elsewhere.”

Because Coburn is staying until the end of the year, his replacement will be selected by the voters, rather than by gubernatorial appointment.

The state’s other Senate seat, held by Republican James Inhofe, is also up for election in 2014. Inhofe is seeking a fourth full term.

Coburn’s decision will likely set off a scramble among Republicans for his seat. U.S. Reps. Tom Cole of Moore, James Lankford of Oklahoma City and Jim Bridenstine of Tulsa are being mentioned, as is Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt.

Given Oklahoma’s Republican tendencies, a Democratic pickup of Coburn’s seat would seem unlikely. A Democrat hasn’t won a Senate race in the Sooner State since 1990.

Coburn was an obstetrician in Muskogee when he entered politics by capturing a U.S. House seat in the Republican wave of 1994, winning in the 2nd District, which at the time was a Democratic bastion in the northeast corner of the state.

In 1997, he was part of a group of conservative House Republicans that led an ultimately unsuccessful coup to oust then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, earning him the ire of many GOP colleagures.

He didn’t seek re-election in 1998, abiding by a pledge he made to serve no more than two terms.

In 2000, Coburn returned to politics by winning U.S. Senate seat vacated by retiring Democratic Senator Don Nickles and was easily re-elected in 2010 with 70 percent of the vote. He had already said he would not run again in 2016 because of his self-imposed two-term limit.

In the Senate, Coburn has been a determined foe of wasteful government spending. Each year, he publishes a Wastebook, which highlights the more “egregious” examples of federal pork.

Coburn has faced serious medical issues, starting with melanoma as a young man before he went to medical school. He has also had colon cancer and had a benign brain tumor removed in 2007.

In November, he disclosed that he was being treated for a recurrence of prostate cancer. In January, he told Politico that he felt he was still strong enough to finish out his term, despite undergoing chemotherapy, but that health issues might force him to leave early.

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